Long wait yields expansive new freedomsWisconsin state senator from Poplar has long fought the gun lobby’s efforts to let state residents carry concealed weapons.
By: By Bill Lueders, Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, New Richmond News
Wisconsin state senator from Poplar has long fought the gun lobby’s efforts to let state residents carry concealed weapons.
In 2004 and again in 2006, Jauch voted against overriding Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle’s veto of a concealed carry bill. Both times, his colleagues in the Senate voted to override, in 2004 drawing this bitter reaction from Jauch: “The NRA won today.”
Both times, the Assembly fell narrowly short of mustering the requisite two-thirds vote.
This year, following the election of Republican Gov. Scott Walker and GOP majorities in both houses, concealed carry was back. Jauch voted against the bill in committee, and pushed amendments to automatically ban concealed weapons from places including the state Capitol, child care centers, churches and bars. All were defeated.
But Jauch ended up voting for the final bill anyway.
“I think the mood of the public has changed,” Jauch explained in a letter to constituents. He added that “there is no evidence that concealed carry in other states has endangered the public or led to a rampant misuse of firearms.”
Wisconsin’s new law, which takes effect Tuesday, leaves Illinois as the lone state with a blanket ban on carrying concealed weapons. The NRA hailed Wisconsin’s law as “one of the nation’s strongest.”
“The odd thing about Wisconsin is that we went right from prohibition to no precautions whatsoever,” says Jeri Bonavia, executive director of the Wisconsin Anti-Violence Effort, a statewide advocacy group. “Our law doesn’t have as many safeguards or restrictions as other states.”
Auric Gold, secretary of the pro-gun-rights group Wisconsin Carry Inc., agrees that the bill offers more expansive rights than earlier versions: “I might say it was worth the wait, because we got a better law than the one that was vetoed by Governor Doyle.”
Wisconsin’s concealed carry law allows anyone 21 or older to apply for a license, good for five years. Only a small group of individuals — including convicted felons — may be denied a license.
The freedom to concealed carry is automatically suspended in only a few places, such as law enforcement offices, courthouses and schools. Others who wish to prohibit weapons in buildings must post signs at every entrance, but no bans may be enacted on the state Capitol grounds or the open areas of city and state parks, college campuses, and public zoos.
Gov. Walker’s Department of Administration has opted to allow concealed weapons in most areas of the state Capitol and other state government buildings. Lawmakers will set their own policies as to where weapons will be permitted.
License holders may bring concealed handguns into taverns, so long as they don’t drink while there. And employers may not prevent their license-holding employees from keeping concealed weapons in their vehicles, even when parked on company property or used in connection with their job.
The law as passed says the training requirement can be met by taking a basic hunter education course, like those offered by the state Department of Natural Resources. Critics note that these courses focus on rifles and shotguns, not handguns, and do not teach about using weapons in crisis situations.
Doug Pettit, chief of police in the village of Oregon and chairman of the legislative committee for the Wisconsin Chiefs of Police Association, notes that police officers receive extensive instruction on the use of firearms under stress — learning, for instance, to always look beyond their target to see if others are in the line of fire.
“It just concerns me that some individuals may decide to get a concealed carry license even though they’re not familiar with the weapon and are not trained properly,” he says.
In response to such concerns, Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen drafted, and Gov. Walker grudgingly approved, an administrative rule to require at least four hours of training, including some hands-on.
But the NRA sees this training rule as too restrictive. Says spokeswoman Rachel Parsons, “we will continue to work with members of the Legislature to strengthen the language,” so more people can carry.
A few Wisconsin communities, including Germantown in Washington County and Sturtevant in Racine County, have voted to allow concealed weapons in most municipal buildings. But many more are taking steps to prohibit these, as the law allows.
State Rep. Donna Seidel, D-Wausau, a leading opponent of concealed carry in Wisconsin, sees this as significant: “If there was such a great desire for this policy in Wisconsin, why are those who can prohibit it doing so?”
Some businesses are also reacting uncomfortably to the change. “They would prefer to have zero tolerance — no weapons on the premises, period,” says Keith Kopplin, a lawyer with the Milwaukee law firm of Krukowski & Costello, which advises employers.
Gun rights advocate Gold thinks Wisconsin’s experience will be similar to other states, where concealed carry becomes “a non-issue with most people.” They hear alarms about “blood running in the streets,” but no such thing occurs.
State Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, a cosponsor of Wisconsin’s concealed carry bill, agrees. “You watch too much TV if you think the average citizen is just ready to go off at the drop of a hat,” he says.
Indeed, Grothman thinks it’s “ridiculous” that there was talk of designating the state Capitol as a place where weapons are not allowed, which the Walker administration declined to do. “It’s a little hypocritical if lawmakers say we don’t want concealed carry where we work,” he says. “We’re telling everybody else out there, ‘Don’t worry.’ ”
Bill Lueders is the Money and Politics Project director at the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism. The project, a partnership of the Center and MapLight, is supported by the Open Society Institute.